I took you at your word, President Biden, when you remarked, Jan. 20, “I am not joking when I say this…if you ever work with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect…talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot.” Gov. Mills, you headlined the third annual Opioid Response Summit on July 15. Both gestures are a great effort but meaningless unless accompanied by bold leadership.

Mr. President and Gov. Mills, I’m pleading with you to lead by example. It’s time for all of us to put our words where our collective mouths and compassionate hearts reside. It’s time to finally put an end to the figurative but blatant slaps and slurs used when speaking and writing about persons with the dual diagnoses of substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental health diagnoses.

It’s imperative that we collectively clean up our act and put an end to abusive language, stigmatizing smears and the shame-inducing vitriol inflicted daily. The net effect is a re-traumatization, resulting from the off-handed and derisive comments that wound. We’ve all heard the stinging rebukes sometimes whispered, often yelled. “She’s just a drunk; He’s a hopeless junkie.” The ultimate projection and personal put down is, “You’re just like your father/mother/brother/sister. They were a hopeless addict and so are you. You’ll never change!”

Why make the effort now? Plain and simple; people are dying daily in part from the abusive language used to describe deadly medical and mental conditions. This pejorative language, which has become acceptable in daily use, is preventing people from stepping forward to access the life-saving services they so desperately need. From September 2019 to September 2020 in Maine there were 504 overdose deaths, a 33 percent increase year to year. Nationally there were 93,000 deaths, the highest number of fatal overdoses ever recorded. The ultimate tragedy is that less than 10 percent of persons meeting criteria for a substance use disorder seek treatment. Stigmatizing language helps keep people afflicted from asking for help. The result is families torn apart and an annual cost to U.S. taxpayers of $600 billion. That money could provide free treatment for those in need. Forget a war on drugs, let’s embrace self-kindness and care for others so we may all get well.

Call me Popeye because, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more.”

I worked as a recovery counselor for 21 years, and in my nascent retirement, Mr. President and Gov. Mills, my plea to embrace this very important language change has become my mission. Lend your voices to creative efforts intent on eradicating the harm perpetuated by inaccurate, insulting words. You know the ones: “addiction, addict, junkie, alcoholic, drunk.”

We, the 35 million Americans in recovery and those seeking sobriety, are simply people. We also are very sensitive people, and we’ve been castigated and marginalized for decades by inappropriate language and outright discrimination.

Let me propose, President Biden and Gov. Mills, that the bonds of stigmatizing language, coupled with TV and movie portrayals, have had an insidious, pernicious and cumulative impact on our cultural psyche.

I know you are very busy, Mr. President and Gov. Mills, but just as you have forcefully and successfully addressed the pandemic, I implore you to give a booster shot to my call for a kinder, gentler treatment of those with a dual-diagnosis. Please join me in the effort to end the stigmatization of those with the co-occurring medical conditions of a substance use disorder and a mental health diagnosis.

It doesn’t matter if you are from a blue, red or purple state, substance use disorders and mental health issues are equal opportunity destroyers of those afflicted and their families! President Biden and Governor, restore us to be United in Sanity Again! I thank you.

– Special to the Press Herald


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